“Oaths of thy love, thy truth, thy constancy” – Oxford to Elizabeth I (the Dark Lady) in Sonnet 152, Echoing His Own Early Sonnet to the Queen

Another  way in which Elizabeth I can be seen in the Sonnets appears in number 152.

Sonnet 152 contains key words that Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford had used in a much earlier sonnet to/about her.     oxford11

In about 1573, when he was twenty-three, Oxford expressed his devotion to the Queen by asking himself a series of rhetorical questions; the unspoken answer, in each case, was “Elizabeth.”

    Above the rest in Court who gave thee grace?

    Who made thee strive in honor to be best?

    In constant truth to bide so firm and sure…

    Love then thy choice wherein such choice doth bind

(Emphases added)

(Only Elizabeth, the divinely ordained monarch, could bestow “grace” upon him.)

The three words/concepts emphasized above – constant, truth, love – are clustered within a single line of Sonnet 152:

    For I have sworn deep oaths of thy deep kindness,

    Oaths of thy love, thy truth, thy constancy

Following is the full sonnet by Oxford, one of the first of the Elizabethan reign written in the form to become known as “Shakespearean,” again with added emphasis on those three key words or concepts:

    Who taught thee first to sigh, alas, my heart?

    Who taught thy tongue the woeful words of plaint?

    Who filled your eyes with tears of bitter smart?

    Who gave thee grief and made thy joys to faint?

    Who first did paint with colors pale thy face?

    Who first did break thy sleeps of quiet rest?

    Above the rest in Court who gave thee grace?

    Who made thee strive in honor to be best?

    In constant truth to bide so firm and sure,

    To scorn the world regarding but thy friends?

    With patient mind each passion to endure,

     In one desire to settle to the end?

       Love then thy choice wherein such choice thou bind,

      As nought but death may ever change thy mind.

                                           Earle of Oxfenforde

eliza.jpg

In Sonnet 152 he speaks decades later to the same sovereign Mistress, using some of his same words; but now Oxford turns those earlier lines upside-down.

Now he expresses profound feelings of betrayal and heartbreak.

In the earlier sonnet, above, he reveals his pure belief in the Queen despite whatever “tears of bitter smart” she has caused him to shed.

But now, below in Sonnet 152, he writes that “all my honest faith in thee is lost” — an unambiguous statement of his disillusion and desolation.

The pure faith in his sovereign Mistress has given way to shattered faith and raging fury.

He is angry not only at Elizabeth and her lies but at his own complicity in them — angry at himself for his continued loyalty to a royal liar.

The simplicity of the early sonnet by a young, idealistic courtier-poet has given way to the complex maturity of an experienced master whose spirit, like that of Hamlet, has been beaten down to the point of near insanity:  “Past cure I am, now Reason is past care,” he tells her in Sonnet 147, “And frantic mad with ever-more unrest;/ My thoughts and my discourse as madmen’s are,/ At random from the truth, vainly expressed.”

In the final line of Sonnet 152, he has ultimately betrayed “truth” or himself,  echoing his motto Nothing Truer than Truth and winding up with “lie” as his final word to the Queen he once had loved:

                                 Sonnet 152

    In loving thee thou know’st I am forsworn,

    But thou art twice forsworn to me love swearing;

    In act thy bed-vow broke and new faith torn

    In vowing new hate after new love bearing:

    But why of two oaths’ breach do I accuse thee,

    When I break twenty? I am perjured most,

    For all my vows are oaths but to misuse thee,

    And all my honest faith in thee is lost.

    For I have sworn deep oaths of thy deep kindness,

    Oaths of thy love, thy truth, thy constancy,

    And to enlighten thee gave eyes to blindness,

    Or made them swear against the thing they see.

       For I have sworn thee fair: more perjured eye,

       To swear against the truth so foul a lie.

Without the identification of Edward de Vere as the author of Sonnet 152, we are deprived of the equally crucial knowledge of Elizabeth Tudor as the “dark lady” whose dark or negative viewpoint has turned the world, England, from day to night.

The Queen, to whom the younger Oxford was so devoted, has forced him to “swear against the thing” he sees.

To maintain his continued service to her, he has adopted a state of “blindness” toward her false public image.

Southampton in the Tower: 1601 - 1603

Southampton in the Tower: 1601 – 1603

He has allowed her to break “two oaths” – one made to him, and one made to Henry Wriothesley, third Earl of Southampton, the “fair youth” of the Sonnets.

Sonnet 152 is a bitter cry of emotional pain, recorded not for contemporary eyes, but, rather, for “eyes not yet created” (Sonnet 81) in posterity — for those of us who, because his “monument” to Southampton has survived, can read his words today.

Without the knowledge that Oxford is writing to Elizabeth, the scope and depth of this personal suffering is inexplicable.

Without Elizabeth identified as the so-called dark lady, the lines of Sonnet 152 seem inflated, fatuous, hyperbolic.

This suffering on Oxford’s part begins to explain the resounding silence of “Shakespeare” upon the Queen’s death.

There’s much more to come in this compilation of ways the Queen appears in the Sonnets; meanwhile, here is the list to date, arranged according to the sonnet numbers in the 1609 quarto:

1 – Sonnet 1: “Beauty’s Rose” – the Queen’s dynasty of the Tudor Rose

2 – Sonnet 19: “The Phoenix” – the Queen’s emblem

3 – Sonnet 25: “The Marigold” – the Queen’s flower

4 – Sonnet 76: “Ever the Same” – the Queen’s motto in English

5 – Sonnet 107: “the Mortal Moon” – Queen Elizabeth as Diana, the chaste moon goddess

6 – Sonnet 125: “Were’t Ought to Me I Bore the Canopy” – Elizabeth’s funeral

7 – Sonnet 128: “Those Jacks that Nimble Leap” – recalling the Queen at her virginals

8 – Sonnet 131: “Commanded by the Motion of Thine Eyes” – to a monarch

9 – Sonnet 151: “I Rise and Fall” – the courtier as sexual slave to his Queen

10 – Sonnet 153: “Against Strange Maladies a Sovereign Cure” – the Queen’s touch

11 – Sonnet 154: “Sleeping by a Virgin Hand Disarmed” – the Virgin Queen

12 – Sonnet 152: “Thy love, thy truth, thy constancy” – Echo of Oxford’s sonnet to Elizabeth

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2 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Hank, at my latest lecture on Saturday the audience fully accepted the time-line you outlined in your book The Monument. As a consequence of this, they fully accepted that the Queen and Henry Wriothesley are the main characters behind the Sonnets, built upon this time-line.

  2. Very interesting Hank………..WRIOTHESLEY…….Wow…..What a name! Thanks, Peter


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